Archive for Jesus Montero
It has started way too early. We have gone from looking forward to a deep playoff run to looking at — though not necessarily forward to — the off-season. Emotions are still running high from the ALDS loss, making it difficult to address the Yankees’ challenges with a clear head. In an attempt to step back and soberly examine the Yankees, I’m going to address a few principles. Hopefully they can help answer a number of more specific questions that will arise as the free agent and trade markets develop.
As the title says, we’re starting with the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, Jesus Montero. After waiting all season for his arrival, Yankees fans got a glimpse of the future starting on September 1. He played in only 18 games and accumulated 69 PA, which doesn’t give us a representative sample. Still, he did impress in that short time, hitting .328/.406/.590. Is anyone not excited for the offense he can produce in the future?
In this way Montero represents the future. In another way, he represents an opportunity. Despite his lack of a position, scouts have said for years that Montero’s bat will play anywhere. That type of talent can bring back something of value in a trade. As Brian Cashman said just after the Yankees’ season ended, his team needs pitching. It’s easy to make the connection. Might the Yankees flip Montero for that No. 2 starter they need?
It sounds like a good idea in theory. Pitching has long been a problem for the Yankees. They could conceivably acquire a relatively young No. 2 pitcher by trading one of the best hitting prospects in the game. At least, that’s what it seems like. In reality that might not be the case.
Why they can’t
The Yankees will likely have difficulty finding a team that matches up with them. This theoretical team would need to fit a few criteria. They’d have to be a team with no designs on contending in 2012, since few teams could continue contending after trading a high-caliber starter and not receiving one in return. They’d also need pitching on the farm, so that they could eventually replace the starter they traded. Their offense would probably have to rank near the bottom of the league, which would give them reason to trade for a big bat with no position. If it’s a National League team, they need an opening at first base — and a coaching staff that thinks it can turn Montero into a first baseman.
Where does that leave the pool of suitors? The Giants might be the only team that could conceivably trade a high-end starter and not cripple themselves. Matt Cain is the interesting name here. The Giants might be willing to listen on him, since he hits free agency after the 2012 season. They also need offense, as they scored the fewest runs per game in the NL. But with Brandon Belt at first base, there isn’t really a spot for Montero. Even if the Giants thought he could catch, they have Buster Posey at that position. The Yankees and the Giants simply do not match up on a Montero trade.
The White Sox are another team that comes to mind, since they’re apparently going with a youth movement in 2012. John Danks becomes a free agent after next season, and so he might hit the trade block at some point this winter. But the Yankees face the same matchup problems here. The Sox are in the AL, which makes things a little easier, but they also have the DH and 1B spots locked up for a few more years. They might want to replace Adam Dunn, but his contract mostly prevents that. If the Sox were to trade for Montero they’d have to believe he could catch. It’s hard to find anyone who thinks that he can.
A look around the rest of the league returns few results. It’s hard to find a team that would trade a top-flight starter in the first place. When the return is a hitter without a position, the pool shrinks even further. There might be an answer out there somewhere, but it’s certainly not an obvious one. Something would have to change before a trade in order for said trade to make any sense.
Why they shouldn’t
Just because the Yankees can, in theory, trade Montero for a starter doesn’t mean that they should. They have a rare talent in Montero, and can use him to help propel the offense for years to come. While pitching might hold importance for the immediate future, offense could become an issue down the road — and not so far down the road, really. Why would the Yankees trade one of their few young power bats?
Take a look at the composition of the 2011 Yankees. Specifically, look at the age column. The only player under 30 to produce an OPS+ of league average or better was Robinson Cano. He and Granderson were really the only elite hitters on the team this season. The other guys on the roster have uses, for sure, and there’s a chance that one or two of them returns to glory. But even a return to glory would be short-lived, given their advanced ages. Combine that with an uncertainty about Granderson’s future — his 2011 was clearly an outlier in a career that started in 2005 — and it’s easy to see a need for offense.
Again, this is more of a far outlook. Maybe Mark Teixeira refocuses this winter and retains the swing that made him the Yankees’ MVP in 2009. Maybe Alex Rodriguez remains healthy and productive next season. That’s all fine and good, but it’s not as though the Yankees can expect them to do that for years into the future. Rodriguez will turn 37 next July, and Teixeira will turn 32 right around Opening Day. There’s hope that Teixeira can still produce high quality numbers for a few more years, but the window is closing on A-Rod. In just a few years the Yankees could find themselves lacking an elite bat beyond Cano.
(At which point Cano will cost $20 million or more per season.)
Montero represents the Yankees’ best opportunity to add a power bat to the middle of their lineup. If they trade him, they’ll again scramble for free agent hitters. While that has worked out in some instances, it has failed in others. Rather than roll the dice in both a trade of Montero and hoping for the right free agent to hit the market, it’s probably a better idea to keep Montero and let him do work in the middle of the lineup for years to come.
The right deal
No player should be untouchable. As an old friend of mine says frequently, everything’s for sale for the right price. If the Yankees can jump on a starter that they truly love and it costs them Montero and little more, they should probably jump on it. But as I described above, those convenient opportunities don’t appear to exist.
Furthermore, even if the Giants were willing to trade Cain for Montero, or the White Sox were willing to part with Danks for him, I still wouldn’t favor such a deal. Both of those players hit free agency after 2012. Even if the Yankees retained them they’d pay market value. That further drives up payroll, which in turn makes it more difficult to acquire other players. It’s not our money, of course, but if the Yankees are only going to invest a certain amount in payroll, it’d be nice to see them allocate it in a way that allows them to add the most production for the least amount of money. That becomes more important when contracts like A-Rod’s, Teixeira’s, and hopefully Sabathia’s are on the books.
Montero, on the other hand, represents one of the greatest values in baseball. Through 2014 he’ll cost no more than a half million per season. After that he has three years of arbitration before hitting free agency. Those cost-controlled years can prove integral in keeping payroll open for other acquisitions. It means they can overpay for someone on the free agent market. But if they trade for Danks they’ll have to either 1) worry about paying him market value in 2013 and beyond, and 2) worry about finding, and paying, a big bat to help replace the declining production of their current guys. And if the Yankees were to let Danks go after a year, adding Banuelos and other young arms to the rotation, they’ll have given up six years of Montero for one of Danks. It just doesn’t make sense.
If the Yankees were to trade Montero, it would have to not only involve a No. 1 or 2 pitcher in return, but that pitcher would have to be under contract for many years. That would necessarily mean that the Yankees would include more than just Montero to complete such a deal. If Felix Hernandez is the target, then perhaps the conversation moves somewhere. But after him, are there any starters that fit the criteria of a No. 1 or 2 pitcher and are under contract for three or more years — and could be had for a Montero-centered package?
Maybe the right deal is out there somewhere. Maybe there’s a GM who is holding back and waiting for the right deal to come along. At this point, it’s difficult to see. What’s easy to see is the potential impact Montero could have on the Yankees lineup. He’s their best power bat prospect, one of the few in their system that could conceivably slide into the No. 4 or 5 spot in the coming years and help ease the declines of their aging stars. That need could be just as important as a No. 2 starter.
Baseball America posted their final Yankees-relevant minor league top 20 today, placing Jesus Montero fifth among all Triple-A International League prospects. Matt Moore, Julio Teheran, Devin Mesoraco, and Desmond Jennings were the four players ahead of Montero. No other Yankees farmhands made the list.
In the subscriber-only scouting report, James Bailey says Montero “doesn’t have the prettiest swing but compensates with exceptional strength and hand-eye coordination,” and he “crushes balls to all fields and projects as a .300 hitter with 30 homers per year.” As always, the question is his defense behind the plate. “He has arm strength but has a slow release and lacks accuracy on his throws,” said Bailey. “He lacks athleticism and still has a ways to go with his receiving and game-calling, and he loses focus too often.” Montero’s bat is big league ready, we saw that in September, but the Yankees will have to come up with a way to get him in the lineup for 600+ at-bats next year.
Sorry if you thought it was Friday, it’s still only Thursday. I skipped the mailbag last week for ALDS reasons, and I figured today was the best day to tackle this week’s edition given the off day and upcoming madness tonight. Most of the questions that were sent in are outdated now (who’d you rather face in the ALDS, Texas or Detroit?), so only four questions today. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to submit your queries.
Patrick asks: Any way Yu Darvish would accept a minor league deal? Would that allow the team that signs him to have him under control for pre and arbitration years?
No, definitely not. Darvish isn’t coming over for a minor league contract. Japanese players are like everyone else; when they come over here, they are still subject to the same rules. That means pre-arbitration salaries for the first three years of their career, then three years of arbitration-eligibility before free agency. However, as a courtesy to veteran players of the Japanese leagues, MLB and the various clubs have allowed Japanese players to become free agents after their initial contracts expire. That’s how Hideki Matsui became a free agent after the 2005, or Hiroki Kuroda last season.
Daisuke Matsuzaka signed a six-year contract when the Red Sox acquired him, basically simulating the six years of team control. Darvish is still so young that I have to believe whatever team lands him will try to do something similar. I can’t imagine a team would pay through the nose for the posting fee and agree to acquire just the first two of three years of Darvish’s career. A five or six-year deal is in order here, if not longer.
Matt asks: I was reading an old Baseball America Handbook and it said that Rays infielder Elliot Johnson signed with Tampa Bay as a non-drafted free agent. How can a guy not drafted out of high school sign as a free agent? And if it’s possible, why don’t we see more guys do it?
Former Yankee John Rodriguez is another guy that signed as an undrafted free agent out of high school. From the official rules…
A player who is eligible to be selected and is passed over by every Club becomes a free agent and may sign with any Club until the player enters, or returns to, a four-year college full-time or enters, or returns to, a junior college.
In English, that means a high school kid can sign as a free agent as long as he goes undrafted, has a diploma/GED, and has not yet attended any kind of college. The best players (high school or otherwise) always get drafted at some point (even if it’s the later rounds), which is why they’re never undrafted free agent. It’s not their choice to go undrafted and become a free agent, the teams control their fate.
Rodriguez and Johnson were the fringiest of fringe prospects, which is why they weren’t drafted. College wasn’t an option for Rodriguez for whatever reason (money, grades, who knows), so he ended up signing with the Yankees after participating in a tryout camp. I’m not sure what Johnson’s story is.
Jeff asks: What will the future hold for Jesus Montero in 2012? Will the Yankees retain Russell Martin and have a catching platoon where Montero can DH on some of the days Martin catches? We know Montero can hit in the majors, so is the best option to ease him into being a major league catcher? What is Montero’s ceiling? Would it be a stretch to think he could have a .400 OBP in his rookie season and drive in 100 RBI with 30-40 HRs?
I’m certain the Yankees will bring Martin back next year. It’s very clear the front office loves him, and he provides very real defensive value while being a non-zero at the plate. With neither Montero, Austin Romine, or Frankie Cervelli ready to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues, there’s a clear opening for Martin on the roster.
Ideally, I’d like to see Montero be the regular DH (against both righties and lefties) while still catching 30-40 games. It’s obvious he’s ready for 600 at-bats in the big leagues, and this is probably the best way to get him that playing time. Any time he spends behind the plate can be a DH day for Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter or whoever needs it. I’m not ready to say he’ll be a .400 OBP/30+ HR/100+ RBI guy right out of the chute, but he has the kind of talent to do that long-term. Something like .280/.340/.460 with 20+ homers would be more than acceptable in my book next season. Remember, this kid is just 21.
Sam asks: If the Brewers lose Prince Fielder to free agency, do you think they would consider trading Shaun Marcum or Yovani Gallardo for a package headlined by Montero?
I don’t think it’s an “if,” I’m pretty sure the Brewers will lose Prince as a free agent. They went all-in this season to try to win with him, they openly acknowledge that, but I don’t think they’re going to go right into a rebuilding mode next year. They’ll still have Marcum, Gallardo, and Zack Greinke in 2012, plus Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, and John Axford aren’t going anywhere for a while. That’s a pretty good core right there. First baseman aren’t the toughest players to replace in free agency (Carlos Pena for a year? Josh Willingham?), so they can plug that hole. No, they won’t replace Fielder’s production, but they still have enough talent to win that division.
That said, the Yankees would have to listen if Milwaukee is open to trading a starter. Gallardo is a stud and I’d give up Montero for him without hesitation, but the problem with Marcum and Greinke is that they’re going to become free agents after next season. At least Gallardo is locked up through 2014 with an option for 2015. Giving up six years of Montero for one year of those two, regardless of how good they are, isn’t the wisest thing in the world. I’m sure the Brewers would be open to a deal involving Marcum or Greinke, but I can’t imagine they’d discuss Gallardo.
Update (12:27am): The team announced that x-rays were negative, so exhale.
Original Post (10:14pm): Jesus Montero was removed from tonight’s game after getting hit by a ball in his bare hand. The Boone Logan pitch hit Casey Kotchman, then ricocheted into Montero’s right hand. Austin Romine took over behind the plate. I’ll update this post with more as it comes.
We’ve got four straight forward questions in this week’s mailbag, so no nonsense answers today. Remember to use the always handy Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you want to send in any questions during the week.
Will asks: What do you think of Jesus Montero‘s debut so far on the big league team? It seems like he’s been striking out way too much. Do you think Montero has a good chance at making the playoff roster? And how much can we expect him to actually contribute?
I think Montero’s been fine overall, neither great nor terrible. He obviously started out very well and has cooled off a bit (still at .313/.389/.542 overall), but that’s a function of having just 54 plate appearances more than anything else. Yeah, the strikeout rate is high (27.8%), especially of late (11 whiffs in his last 28 PA), but it’s not terribly surprising for a 21-year-old kid making his debut. Montero’s shown that Yankee Stadium-friendly opposite field stroke and we’ve seen the power on display, so we know the tools are there. Regardless of what happens this month, good or bad, we weren’t going to learn too much about the kid anyway.
As for the playoffs, yeah I think he makes the roster as the primary DH against lefties. We’ll talk more about Jorge Posada in just a second, but I hope the team decides to leave the traditional backup catcher at home and rely on those two as emergency fill-ins should anything happen to Russell Martin.
Cliff asks: Not sure when you do these but I was curious if you think Posada is going to make the postseason roster. If not, do you think they will announce it before Sunday so we can give him a proper send off in the last home game?
I was pretty sure that Posada was going to make the playoff roster all along, but I think that AL East-winning hit on Wednesday cemented it. He can still hit righties (.270/.346/.464), so he’s probably the best choice to platoon with Montero at DH. Plus Jorge can also be useful off the bench as a pinch-hitter and super emergency catcher. I don’t put much stock in intangibles but they definitely do exist, so if nothing else, we know that Posada won’t be overwhelmed by the moment in the postseason. He’s been through all that already, and it’s just one less thing the Yankees would have to worry about.
I would be very surprised if the Yankees announce that Jorge will not be on the playoff roster in time for the final home game,but like I said, I expect them to carry him on the roster. So that last point is basically moot.
Scout asks: If the SF Giants decline his 2012 option, Jeremy Affeldt will become a free agent, and evidently without compensation. Does the lefthander make sense for the Yankees, assuming he will require a two-year deal?
Damaso Marte‘s contract expires after the season, so the Yankees have one of those $4M a year LOOGY spots to fill. We’ll go more in depth with potential free agent targets and what not during the offseason (so I don’t want to spoil it too much), but yeah, Affeldt would be a fine target. He held lefties to a .144/.206/.200 batting line with 24 strikeouts and just five walks in 97 PA this year, which is quite a bit better than the .245/.369/.365 batting line they posted against him from 2009-2010 (43 K, 29 BB in 195 PA). I think that has more to do with health than anything.
Affeldt, 32, still has pretty good stuff (low-to-mid-90′s two and four-seamers with a curveball) and he has been really dominant against same -side batters when it comes to getting ground balls over the last few seasons. The Giants have a $5M club option for his services next year, but apparently it will be tough for them to bring both Affeldt and Javy Lopez back next season. I’m very much against multi-year deals for less than elite relievers, but the Yankees obviously aren’t. Affeldt would definitely be an intriguing target after the season, assuming he hits the open market.
Daniel asks: With the success that Robertson has had this year and should he have a similar year next year, should he be made the closer after Rivera? If Rivera retires at the end of his current contract, the Yankees will still likely have Soriano for another year, and he has experience closing, but Robertson appears to be the better pitcher.
The one thing we have to remember is: how often do relievers have back-to-back elite years? The answer is not very often, so we shouldn’t plan out the rest of David Robertson‘s career just yet. That said, he’s obviously the best in-house replacement for Mariano Rivera, just like Phil Hughes was in 2009 and Joba Chamberlain was in 2007. I’d almost prefer that if Robertson does take over as closer, he does it as the guy that replaces Rivera’s replacement. It’s going to be impossible to fill Mo’s shoes, and I suspect the natives will be restless if the new guy struggles out of the gate. We saw it when Tino Martinez took over for Don Mattingly, fans booed him like he kicked their dog or something.
Assuming Rivera retires after next year, the last season on his current contract, I’m not sure the worst move in the world would be to let Rafael Soriano (a.k.a. the Proven Closer™) close at first, then have Robertson replace him if he fails. And if he doesn’t fail, then he’ll be a free agent after the year and Robertson could step after that. The closer’s job is overrated in general, and I think you can make a really strong argument that Robertson would be more valuable to the team pitching the seventh and/or eighth inning while a lesser reliever starts the ninth with a clean slate.
Thanks to various injuries, the Yankees used four different catchers in a span of 24 hours this weekend. On Saturday night, it was Russell Martin starting before Jorge Posada came in as an injury replacement. Sunday afternoon it was Jesus Montero with the starting assignment and Austin Romine doing the defensive replacement thing. Four catchers in two days, and not a single one of them was Frankie Cervelli.
The Yankees regular backup backstop is in New York, where tests confirmed a concussion as the result of a pair of home plate collisions on Thursday. The first collision with Nick Markakis was clearly the more devastating of the two; he led with the shoulder and caught Frankie right in the head. The picture above tells the entire story. Brain injuries and concussions are no joke, especially when we’re talking about multiple occurrences. Cervelli had at least three concussions from 2005-2010, the last one coming when he was hit in the head by pitch in Spring Training last season. This latest incident makes it at least four concussions in seven seasons.
With just 16 games left in the season, there’s a non-zero chance that we won’t see Frankie again until 2012. Head injuries are serious business and the Yankees will take every precaution, just like they have with Cervelli (and Posada) in the past. That leaves the team in a little bit of a bind, because they don’t have an obvious backup catcher to replace the King of the Fist Pumps. Posada caught his first game in almost a year this weekend, and it was only because it was an emergency. Montero was pulled for a defensive replacement, not exactly a ringing endorsement of his catching skills. Romine has fewer than 50 innings of catching experience above Double-A. None are ideal fits.
Thankfully, the schedule kinda helps the Yankees here, because they have such a big lead on a postseason spot and only a handful of games left to play. Montero and Romine can split catching duties for the next week or two and it won’t be that big of a deal, assuming Martin makes it back from his bruised thumb in a somewhat timely fashion. The Yankees shouldn’t rush him back, obviously, but as far as we know, it’s not anything more serious than a bruise and a cracked nail. Going into the postseason, you’d count on Martin catching every inning of every game, no doubt about it. There’s fewer off days this year but still enough to make catching everyday possible. That leaves Cervelli’s now vacant roster spot up in the air.
Barring something unforeseen, Montero figures to make the postseason roster at this point. He’d step right into Frankie’s roster spot, meaning that Cervelli’s latest concussion may have saved Posada’s playoff job. For all intents and purposes, the Yankees have been phasing Jorge out in the second half, but he could still serve as a pinch-hitter against right-handers and an emergency catcher in October. Montero would be the other emergency catcher, even if means losing the DH in a given game. I don’t think it’s out of the question that the Yankees could go into the postseason without a true backup catcher on the roster, which would be kinda neat and unconventional.
The x-factor here is Joe Girardi, who seems to love having a defense-first backup catcher (not that Cervelli was a Gold Glover back there). That could open the door for Romine to win a spot on the postseason bench, meaning the Yankees may end up taking only one of Montero or Posada. That is unless they decide against a pinch-running specialist like Chris Dickerson or Greg Golson. Or perhaps they go with a ten-man pitching staff, which would be a minor miracle. There’s a lot of variables in play here, and there are 16 games left to sort them all out. The key is Martin, if that thumb heals well and he can catch a full workload in October, it opens a lot of roster construction doors for the postseason.
When the news arrived that Jesus Montero would be called up to the big-league squad, Joel Sherman was on hand with a typically well-sourced article providing insight into the organization’s thinking about Montero’s role this season. Sherman noted that Montero would become the regular designated hitter against left-handed pitching, meaning that the team would like platoon Gardner and Jones in left field or simply give Jones fewer at-bats. He also suggested that Montero could eventually hit his way into the regular designated hitter slot, against righties and lefties alike. The money quote came from one of Sherman’s usual “sources within the Yankee organization”: “One Yankees official acknowledged Montero is coming with a chance to win a significant job and another member of the organization said definitively, “By the playoffs, he will be our best DH option.”"
Another interesting part of the column came when Sherman brought up Miguel Cabrera as a comparison for Montero. This comparison has been bandied about elsewhere before, and in fact Brian Cashman himself mentioned Cabrera when talking about Montero’s future upside to ESPN’s Ian O’Connor: ”In terms of hitting ability, Montero can be a Manny Ramirez or a Miguel Cabrera…He has a chance to bat third or fourth. He has the potential to be a beast in the middle of our lineup.”
The Cabrera comparison is an intriguing one, to be sure, and there are a few interesting parallels between the start of each player’s respective career. Despite the fact that Miguel Cabrera was well-regarded as a very talented prospect, he had a far less impressive minor league track record than Montero. As a teenager, Cabrera never put together an OPS higher than .754 at any level of minor league competition. The Marlins stayed confident in his skill though, and moved him to Double-A to start the 2003 season. It was there that the light went on, that his talent took over, that he finally got it, however you’d like to frame it, and Cabrera started raking. In a half season of baseball he hit .365/.429/.609 in 303 plate appearances. That June, the Marlins called Cabrera up directly from Double-A.
He began his career in an interleague matchup with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in a game managed by Jack McKeon (FLA) and Lou Piniella (TBR), one in which a 21 year-old Carl Crawford tripled. Still wet behind the ears, Cabrera nevertheless homered in his first game, a walkoff shot in the bottom of the 11th. It wasn’t too shabby of a start for the kid. It wasn’t all walkoffs and heroics from there on out, of course. Cabrera struggled for the rest of June and ended the month with an OPS of only .542. Over the next few months, Cabrera would go alternatingly hot and cold, flashing a load of power but not a ton of on-base skill. A quick breakdown of his OPS by month shows a streaky hitter finding his way around major league pitching:
By October the Marlins were in the playoffs, and they brought the youngster along for the ride. While he still wasn’t walking a ton, he managed to club four home runs, one off Roger Clemens in the World Series. Along with Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano and Dontrelle Willis, Miggy hoisted his first and only World Series trophy that fall as the Marlins defeated the Yankees. The team became history fast, broken up by an owner not willing to pay the players commensurate with their market values. Cabrera was the last rat off the sinking ship, sent to Detroit in the winter of 2007-2008, where he’s flourished as a perennial MVP candidate ever since.
There’s always a danger in making a comparison to a big leaguer, successful or otherwise. No two players are alike. Yet as long as the comparisons are couched in a healthy dose of realism, I don’t necessarily see the problem in throwing up this comp as an example of what once happened when a much-hyped prospect with talent oozing out of his ears got called up for a pennant race. At the end of the day, a comp is just an analogy, or a metaphor. I’m not a neuroscientist and I’m not an expert on how the brain develops, but in my experience telling a 10 year-old “These Doritos are dynamite” would cause him to ask for one, not run in fear. Hopefully fans can be similarly discerning. Kevin Long’s message about the Cabrera comparison is probably the perfect mix of recognizing Jesus’ insane talent level and hedging it with all the necessary qualifications:
“It is fair [because of his talent] to say he can do it [be like Cabrera],” Long said. “But there are so many intangibles that go along with success here. So do I expect that kind of impact? No. Can it happen? Yes. But it is unfair to put expectations on someone who has not done it. But this is someone with as much hitting upside as anyone in the minors.”
Jesus Montero isn’t Miguel Cabrera. Sure, they’re both right-handed Venezuelan bonus babies with similar body type, batting swings, and prodigious power, but of course they’re two different people. They will have different career paths. Yet, the start of their careers looks just similar enough to merit mentioning, and perhaps provides a guideline for expectations as the team chugs towards the playoffs. Perhaps Montero will exceed expectations and be Miggy in July and September of 2003; perhaps he’ll flounder and be the Miggy of June and August; perhaps he’ll be a little of both. Perhaps he’ll homer off Doc Halladay and help the Yankees take home another World Series crown, or maybe he’ll miss the postseason roster. Isn’t that tension really what it’s all about, though? Is there anything more exciting than hoping that the best-case scenario will actually play out and get realized in dramatic, awesome fashion? And isn’t that why we keep coming back for more, even when those hopes are dashed and expectations aren’t met, and the game breaks our heart?
The refrain can cease. After months and months of yapping about Jesus Montero, the man himself is set to debut with the Yankees. For many it feels like a move long overdue. After a slow start Montero started to turn things around, and by the end of July it appeared that he could help the major league team. Yet the Yankees went through August doing business as usual, opting to wait until rosters expand before they called up their top prospect.
In a way that made sense. Roster construction dictated it. Early in the month the Yankees ran a short bench, opting to carry a sixth starter instead of a fourth bench player. That made sense, because it left the bullpen at full strength. They could have recalled Montero in that spot and worked with a short bullpen, but they also knew that Alex Rodriguez would return at some point in August. At that point they absolutely could not carry Montero, since they’d require all four other bench players. So even if they promoted him after the trade deadline, they would have had to send him back down after a few weeks.
The only way the Yankees could have carried Montero before today was if they chose to removed Jorge Posada from the active roster. While the organization and Posada came to blows in May, things seemed to smooth out from there. Posada started to hit, and the Yankees made it clear, through media channels, that they did not intend to release him. Despite his overall struggles he has managed to stay productive against righties, producing a .354 wOBA against them in 254 PA. That translates to 8.8 runs above average, a respectable figure for that number of plate appearances.
Now that the roster limit has expanded from 25 to 40, the Yanks have plenty of room to maneuver. They’ve wasted no time in calling up Montero, and he could immediately jump into a prominent role. YES Network’s Jack Curry recently reported that Montero will start at DH tonight against Jon Lester. That’s quite a debut assignment, and it portends his role down the stretch and perhaps into the playoffs. In fact, Joel Sherman quotes a Yankees official saying, “By the playoffs, [Montero] will be our best DH option.” That’s quite a bold statement for a player who has yet to face major league pitching.
While Montero’s assignment for tonight comes against a lefty, the unnamed Yankees official makes it sound as though he’ll play against right-handed pitching, too. That would leave Posada without a role. This is nothing new, of course; Posada lost his gig for a week in August while Eric Chavez took over DH duties against right-handed pitching. Posada came back with a fury, driving in six runs, including a grand slam, against the Rays. Since then he’s hit decently, but not to the level where he absolutely must remain in the lineup. Unless the Yankees use Montero behind the plate, Posada could spend most of September on the bench.
Throughout the season the Yankees have shown patience with Jorge Posada. They could have removed him from the lineup when he struggled early in the season. They could have treated him more harshly after his blow-up in May. But they stuck with him, for the most part, and he rewarded them with some quality numbers against right-handed pitching. But his complete lack of flexibility has hurt them at times. With rosters expanding the Yankees gain plenty of flexibility, and they’ll apparently use that to try another option at DH. Jorge will be there in case it doesn’t work out. But for the time being, his name won’t appear frequently on Joe Girardi‘s lineup card.
Unless Joel Sherman is wrong (and his reporting almost never is), the Yankees will call up Jesus Montero today as the rosters expand in the season’s final month. Some poor sap will lose his 40-man roster spot, but that’s part of the business. I wanted to see Montero earlier this season, but whatever. Better late than never. He’ll reportedly get “opportunities to play and specifically hit,” which I guess means spot starts at DH and maybe even behind the plate. I highly doubt he’s going to just sit on the bench to “soak it all in,” he’s ready for the next challenge.
ZiPS pegged Montero for a .276/.334/.503 batting line in the big leagues before the season, which frankly would have been a miracle. Exactly eight players have slugged .500 or better in their age 21 season over the last 50 years, and only 24 players have managed a .330 OBP with a .450 SLG at that age and in that time frame. It’s not often a player that young hitter comes up and has an immediate impact, but that won’t stop us from expecting one from Montero. Therein lies the problem. What’s a reasonable expectation and what isn’t?
Honestly, I have no idea. I expect Jesus to look overmatched at times, to look right at home at others, to hit a ball or five over the fence, to fail to block a curveball in the dirt, to throw a ball into centerfield, to flick his wrists and clank one off the right field wall … all sorts of stuff. That’s the thing about young players, you never have any idea what you’re going to get. Regardless, the magnifying glass will be him, for good or bad. In this age of instant reaction, start-to-start and plate appearance-to-plate appearance changes of opinion, we’re probably going to see a lot of good and bad this month. A lot more bad I’m sure, just because the game is all about failure.
Montero’s status as a top prospect is going to work against him as well, because come on, top prospects are scrutinized most heavily while the underdogs get praised. That’s why everyone loves Ivan Nova and Melky Cabrera and hates Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. It’s natural to root for the underdog, the ones that surprise us, and it’s also natural to come down hardest on those we expect the most from. Montero is no underdog, he’s one of the very best prospects in baseball and will have a target on his back the first time he steps into the batter’s box. Just wait until he takes an 0-for-4 this weekend or fails to get the runner in from third or something. There will definitely be people calling him a bust based on that, I guarantee it.
I can’t help but think of Justin Upton here, not that Montero will be that kind of player. But just look at how the first few years of Upton’s career shook out. He was a huge, huge prospect that got a brief cup of coffee in 2007 and was below replacement level. He managed to keep his head above water (.347 wOBA) in 400+ plate appearances in 2008, then broke out in 2009 (.388 wOBA). Upton took a step back in 2010 (.349 wOBA), got shopped around on the trade market in the offseason, and now he’s an MVP candidate. Lots of ups and lots of downs, which is usually how it goes. It’s not isolated to the Yankees and their stupid player development strategies or whatever people want to blame it on. It’s just normal career progression. Young players rarely reward their teams right away.
Unless we’re talking serious injury, there’s nothing Montero can do this month to change his stock either way. A Shane Spencer month (.421/.476/1.105 with eight homers) might help the team win some games and land him a spot on the playoff roster, but it won’t change his long-term outlook. At the same time, neither will an 0-for-37 with 23 strikeouts and ten double plays. It doesn’t work like that, one month just isn’t enough time to change anything in a meaningful way. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Some fans will write Montero off if he struggles in September and others will start erecting a monument beyond the center field wall if he does well. I expect good things and I’m hopeful that we’ll see them, but Jesus Montero’s career will not be defined by September 2011. That much I’m certain of.
Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees will call up Jesus Montero when rosters expand tomorrow, but neither Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances will be in the big leagues next month. They have enough concerns about their fastball command to leave them down, though they had entertained the idea of using both out of the bullpen. As for Montero, Sherman says he is “going to get opportunities to play and specifically hit.” There’s a chance he could hit his way onto the postseason roster as well, but that would require a Shane Spencer type of September from their top prospect. Either way … yay.